Power of the pen: contemporary Chinese ink paintings

Contemporary ink paintings are stimulating debate about how to modernise the art form, writes Vanessa Yung

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 10:59pm

You might call Chinese contemporary ink the new black. The genre was already making waves in Europe last summer when three large exhibitions of Chinese contemporary ink paintings were held at the British Museum and the Saatchi Gallery in London, and the Guimet Museum in Paris.

Interest quickly caught on in the art market, and auction house Christie's held its first private sales of the genre earlier this year. This was followed by an exhibition of contemporary ink art in New York, staged by rival Sotheby's.

Now mainland and Hong Kong ink artists are in the spotlight in an exhibition of their works at Sotheby's Hong Kong Gallery at One Pacific Place.

"New Ink: An Exhibition of Ink Art by Post-1970 Artists From the Yiqingzhai Collection", which will end on June 28, features local names such as Wong Chung-yu and Joey Leung Ka-yin alongside Hao Liang and Peng Wei from the mainland. Also on show is a selling exhibition, "The Spirit of Ink: 12 Hong Kong Artists".

Angelika Li On-ki, the gallery director of Sotheby's Hong Kong, curated both shows. She says the New Ink exhibition is different to previous ink art shows because it focuses specifically on works by 16 post-1970 artists that have yet to be fully explored.

"They grew up in a time when the political and social environment was very different from that of their predecessors," says Li. "As with artists from the new ink movement of the 1950s and '60s, it's interesting to see how these post-1970 artists use this very traditional art form and translate, reinterpret and redefine it. They use their own medium to tell their stories."

Many of the artists are no longer restricting themselves to ink and paper or traditional techniques and subject matter. Wong likes to apply the traditional art training he has in other ways. His The Phantasm 3 is ink on paper, but the strokes and design merge urban architecture with the landscape. Hao Liang's In Search of Li Gonglin is a Chinese man in a Western outfit riding a horse, but the work is two-layered, with the top layer depicting skeletons of both horse and rider on Plexiglas. Li thinks Hao is paying tribute to the man as he searches for his own identity.

"There's a lot of discussion about whether ink art should stay as it is, but these young artists are showing that they're moving forward by experimenting with new media to challenge the boundaries," she says. "I want people to think when they see the visions of these youngsters."

Featuring works such as sculptures and video installations by 12 local artists including Angela Su Sai-kee, Danny Lee Chin-fai and Wai Bong-yu. "The Spirit of Ink" offers another take on the traditional medium. These works are personal, and Li says the artists "reinterpret ink art as a medium, and reimagine our city amid the constant redevelopment, and different cultural phenomena".

Chinese contemporary ink is not just a fad, she says. "Ink painting is very traditional, but it's not just an art form. It can transfer to our philosophy, way of life, religion and many other things.

"In the Google era, when everything's so fast, international artists can be introduced to it, and find a relevance for themselves. That's the way interesting discussions begin."

Other Chinese contemporary ink shows around town include "The Origin of Dao: New Dimensions in Chinese Contemporary Art", curated by Professor Pi Daojian, at the Hong Kong Museum of Art until August 18.


Sotheby's Hong Kong Gallery, 5/F One Pacific Place, 88 Queensway. 10am-8pm. Inquiries: 25248121